Grid computing comes of age

With vendors grid-enabling applications, and early adopters delighted, 2006 looks like the year of the grid.

This is the year that grid computing will move with a bang into mainstream corporate America, say analysts at firms such as The 451 Group. Businesses in biotech, the sciences and financial services industries already have discovered that grids are competitive necessities.

This is the year that grid computing will move with a bang into mainstream corporate America, say analysts at firms such as The 451 Group. Businesses in biotech, the sciences and financial services have discovered that grids are competitive necessities.

Enterprises in other industries are expected to quickly follow suit as they discover the virtues of this New Data Center server architecture. Simply put, stitching together inexpensive hardware to gain supercomputerlike power makes a lot of business sense.

And yet, most enterprises aren't in dire need of affordable supercomputing power. At least, they don't realize they are, which is not the same thing.

Most network executives haven't taken enough time to experiment with grids to discover which of their current applications could benefit from this type of server. Why should they, when servers are inexpensive (price/performance-wise) and getting more affordable all the time? Throwing hardware at an overloaded application has been the go-to solution for the past decade. Today blade servers and virtualization software are helping to solve the proliferation crises that such inelegant CPU management has caused.

But after you've virtualized your infrastructure so one physical server can support 20 virtual servers, what then? Do you continue to glob on virtual servers with the same mentality that caused the need for virtualization in the first place? If there's one lesson we should have learned from the client/server revolution, it is that inelegance is not sustainable. This is true even on the virtual level.

You have a golden window of opportunity right now. You can ignore it and then one day wake up suffering from the pain of an overloaded, outdated infrastructure that is handing business to your competition. Or you can gather data from your key vendors on their grid plans and use this research to architect a low-cost, experimental grid.

The fact that your no-grid grace period is about to expire shouldn't surprise you. The general assumption of the network industry has been that grids will become the de facto server infrastructure for enterprises in the vague near term. The many early adopters I've talked to in three years of covering emerging technologies for our New Data Center series, plus the research numbers, are convincing. Grid users consistently testify that after building a grid to solve a specific problem, they found it to be a perfect platform for more applications. To know a grid is to love it, early adopters say.

As users gain experience, they realize that grids may be the ideal hardware platform to support a Web services/ services-oriented architecture (SOA) platform. Flexible software needs flexible hardware. This has not been lost on the grid vendor community. The Global Grid Forum has been working for more than three years on methodologies for running SOAs on grids. Its reference framework for doing this, the Open Grid Services Architecture, was published in January 2005.

Many major enterprise application vendors already have a compelling grid story to tell. Oracle has been pushing the grid terminology around for quite a while. But it also has partnered with grid software maker DataSynapse so that Oracle 10g can be optimized for that vendor's grids. SAP has taken a more promising approach by redesigning portions of its software to work with open source Globus-based grids. Insiders say enterprise software on an open source grid will jump-start enterprise acceptance of grids in 2006.

Meanwhile, testing grids for hire, such as the computing infrastructure available at United Devices' High-Performance Computing Collaboration Center, are beginning to emerge.

Increased cooperation among grid-standards bodies also bodes well for this young technology. In November, two leading standards bodies announced they were in talks to collaborate better and said they may merge by summer.

These are the Enterprise Grid Alliance, which has focused on enterprise grid architectures, and the Global Grid Forum, historically aimed at scientific grid standards.

All of this can only be good news for your own advanced, flexible and super powerful infrastructure.

Have you built a business grid you'd like to tell us about? Contact me at jbort@nww.com.


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